Presentation: The Position of Reception History in Biblical Studies

I presented this presentation and paper to the Australian group, the Fellowship of Biblical Studies, in Melbourne, 26/09/16. It concerns both the value & risks of reception history for biblical studies and consideration of the similarity and differences in practice between reception history (Wirkungsgechichte) and history of interpretation (Auslegungsgeschichte), which are both studies of how biblical texts (and others, as easily) have been interpreted and had influence through time. The former is broader than the latter in a range of ways, and I found some tensions between the practice of the two. The following demonstrates these ideas mostly in diagrams with a little text and some explanatory notes, and see the following Word document also.

This is the Word document, merely in dot-point form, rather than a proper prose piece, but it may fill in some gaps:

Double-Duty Software Tools for Teaching

Just an update on my experiments with software tools for study and research purposes. I thought I’d talk about this in terms of some that are meant to act as in-between tools that combine functions done singly by others. Sometimes such double-duty tools have worked for me, others not, and others I haven’t really tried. Here’s what I found out.

Teaching Technologies Diagram

  1. Microsoft Word you know. Zotero is a reference (or citation) manager that I have found more versatile than EndNote, particularly in its ability to cater well for notetaking, linking of references to each other, and instant harvesting of references from web pages such as lists of books on Amazon. (EndNote is more powerful in some ways, but on balance Zotero is more useful for me.) Now there is an Aussie startup called ComWriter that handles both word processing and the citing of sources. To combine these functions makes all the sense in the world to me. But as Darth Vader said, “It’s too late for me, son.” I’m familiar with MS Word and find it quite powerful and effective, though it isn’t “the latest thing to come across the wire.” And I’ve invested heavily, first in EndNote, and now even more in Zotero. I can’t start from the beginning again, and don’t really feel the need to. But if I was a student starting out, I’d give it a serious look, especially now that it’s serious for student.
  2. While we’re talking about Zotero, I gave a good go to a program meant to combine the functions of a citation manager and a mindmap. What a great idea, to mindmap your references! One edition of Zotero was blessed with a user-written add-on (the kind of thing you get with such open-source software) that rendered one’s Zotero references in a fantastic concept mapper called VUE, or Visual Understanding Environment, put out by TUFTS University. VUE is very powerful, though I have not always found the instructions attached easy to understand. I tend instead to use the simpler mindmapping program FreePlane in many cases. That’s where Docear comes in. It is a program that combines FreePlane and a reference manager called JabRef. Again, a great idea, and I’ve toyed with it, not to replace Zotero but as a next step. It handles references internally and readily maps them. But…I haven’t found it always easy to use, hitting roadblocks at times that I can’t find a way around. That kind of lost time is hard to replace. I’m simply copying and pasting Zotero references one by one into FreePlane and manipulating them from there as needed.
  3. It is also possible to graphically map your writing process, and Scrivener famously allows writers to do this, including corkboarding the plot of a novel and moving units of writing around. It’s all the rage these days, and I was tempted to take the bait, but it doesn’t do one very critical thing for academic writing. It does not handle or integrate the referencing process. And for me, that’s a deal-breaker. I have experimented with using FreePlane to map out an article-length piece of writing in skeleton form, and found it to work well. So there’ll be no ‘literature and latte’ for me.
  4. On a different plane, I use presentation tools a lot, especially PowerPoint and now, mostly, Prezi. And increasingly needing custom graphics, I’ve delved into the world of vector graphics, which, instead of being composed of bits, are constructed using mathematical functions. The outcome is graphics that never lose resolution at any magnification, perfect for zoomable presentation formats. Being cheap, rather than Adobe Illustrator, I use the open-source alternative Inkscape for this purpose and increasingly love it. The halfway house in this case is Sozi, a zoomable presenter built originally as an extension for Inkscape, and now a stand-alone program. I’m new to it, but find it easy to use. It effectively takes a series of snapshots of your vector graphic in SVG format, such as Inkscape produces, that become your presentation slides and provides for customized transitions between them. It’s all zoomable and rotatable just as Prezi is, but rather than the somewhat hand-holding though very user-friendly graphics capabilities of Prezi, you have all the graphical freedom of Inkscape to work with. It looks very promising.

I am always evolving in my use of software tools for research and teaching, and have to watch that I don’t pick up something new to learn every couple of months. That’s not a good use of time. But good tools can mean good craftworks, and anything that expedites research or makes teaching more effective is good. Explore!

P.S. the above graphic was whipped up in Inkscape – took me most of an hour, but an expert user might have taken 10 minutes. Right now, though, WordPress won’t let me embed vector graphics, as far as I can tell.

Brief Note on Rare Old Testament Names for God

This has appeared before, and is mainly posted for easy reference for my OT students as we talk about the book of Job next week. This chart does not show the common names or titles used for God, particularly Yahweh and Elohim. But I note that both terms are strikingly scarce in the body of the book of Job, but not the narrative frame in chs. 1-2 and 42. Instead, the archaic or otherwise scarce names Eloah, El and Shadday dominate in a way that makes this part of Job very distinctive indeed within the OT canon.

Rare OT Names of God Sshot

By the way, many of their other occurrences outside of Job are limited to just a few key chapters of the OT, such as the Balaam narratives in Numbers 22-24 or the (it is argued by some, notably David Noel Freedman and his associates) archaic poetry of Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32. Use of ‘Yahweh’ for God appears to become increasingly common in Judah’s biblical corpus over time, unsurprisingly.

An Attempt at a Master Diagram of Interesting Features of the Psalms

I’m not entirely happy with this yet, and in fact it isn’t complete, but it’s at a stage of “proof of concept”. It’s a master diagram of Psalms in Prezi arranged like one of those broken-up-world globe map projections:

https://prezi.com/gr8muwf70jel/psalms-master-diagram/
Psalms Master Prezi Screenshot

For those interested in technical production details, I produced the world template in one Inkscape document and the coloured content in another. Inkscape is a free, open-source vector graphics program. But Prezi doesn’t recognise the normal vector graphics (SVG) format, so I had to open the finished product in Adobe Illustrator (very new for me, and maybe not permanent, though a better-known vector graphics program, probably the best-known of all). Then I exported it in Adobe Flash format (SWF), which Prezi recognizes, and opened the file from within a new prezi, adding nothing else bar the title. The convoluted process is thanks to Inkscape’s usefulness as a graphics editor, whereas Prezi is very limited that way, and the fact that vector graphics do not lose resolution no matter how far you zoom into them, and are ideally suited to a zooming interface like Prezi.

But, if the result doesn’t help anyone comprehend (in this case) Psalms, all the playing around is in vain. So critical feedback is welcome!

A Sermon on Music in Worship: “Worshipping in Song”

Some of this is more suggestive than detailed text, but it will give you some idea of what I spoke about at my home church, Kilsyth South Baptist Church in eastern Melbourne, this morning.

I feel I need to add a caveat. Speaking in church about worship is a bit like speaking in church about prayer. You’re normally going to have a sense of your own shortcomings in the same area. Certainly true for me on this occasion!

The link for the prezi online is: https://prezi.com/czzhib-lcf3_/worshipping-in-song/

If you’d like a downloaded form, the pdf may be found at http://1drv.ms/1e8GR9V. Here’s the embedded form:

I haven’t forgotten the creation book series…more to come on that.

An Embryonic Example of Teaching Hebrew Vocabulary Visually in Semantic Fields

This is a work in progress, lacking order and featuring only one or two hundred of the most common terms from OT biblical Hebrew, but you can see the principle I’m pursuing: representing vocabulary words that students need to learn in natural association and with visual clues. I’ve tried out more than one principle of association, and would like to cluster the circles together in related bubble masses in time, though the prezi will at some point begin to grind to a stop with its graphical content. So there is builder’s rubble and scaffolding lying around here.

Heb Vocab Fams Scrshot Smaller

The impetus for this visual aid I owe to David Gormley-O’Brien, whom I heard speak at the SCD Teaching & Learning Conference in Sydney last September, where he called for the teaching of biblical languages in semantic domains, while I was there presenting a paper on, yes, visual communication in the theological classroom. So this is my attempt to put David’s call into practice, such as it is so far.

From a method point of view, I have had to create the frame in prezi, take a screenshot of that and paste it into an Inkscape (i.e. vector graphics) document, type in Hebrew terms in SBL Hebrew font and manipulate them as needed, then select assemblages of Hebrew terms and export them as png files which I could then open from within prezi and drop into place, where they were tailored to fit as needed.

The link: https://prezi.com/cbqtqi7bqwgs/hebrew-vocabulary-by-semantic-fields/

Feedback is most welcome.

A New Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Study Tool Online

From time to time I add a new pin to my Pinterest board on tools for studying biblical Hebrew: https://www.pinterest.com/abrown5929/biblical-hebrew-teaching-and-learning/

But occasionally there comes along a new tool that’s worth noting more fully. Care of a student of Matthew Anstey (and of mine, at intervals), I’ve found out about one called Shebanq, which appears to permit searching of anything you’d like to find out about the Hebrew Bible/OT. I’m sure it can do a great range of different things, and you may want to explore the possibilities. Let me mention just one.

Some time back, I explored manual representation of distribution of important OT terms by means of a heat map. If you don’t know what a heat map is, it is a kind of chart commonly used in data visualization circles. Here is an effort done up in Prezi to show where Levites are mentioned in the OT, and where they aren’t: https://prezi.com/uhjbcpw1xiyn/references-to-levites-in-joshua-kings-chronicles/

Levite Refs in Hist'l Books Sshot

However, much better than a template that has to be filled in manually is a tool that creates a heat map (such as the circular one above) automatically. That is one thing that Shebanq does. As an experiment, I searched for the prefixed relative pronoun that usually appears as ‘שֶׁ’, typically in late biblical Hebrew contexts. In concert with a whole range of other terminological data, including the use of Aramaic and, more tellingly, Persian terms, it gives away parts of the OT canon as clearly postexilic, notably Book V of the Psalms, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. You’ll see what I mean in this screenshot from the program:

Shebanq rel pron example

You’ll find this at http://shebanq.ancient-data.org/hebrew/text, and the relevant term is tagged with the number 2640. To get there, select ‘Words’ in the header menu, select the Hebrew letter ‘שׁ’, then find ‘שַׁ’, the first option under that letter. Then, in the LH dialogue box, select ‘chart’, and (as we say here) ‘Bob’s your uncle’! A heat chart making the distribution of the term clear at a glance!

I find this kind of tool an instant buzz, and a doorway both into diachronic studies of term frequencies (over time) in biblical Hebrew, and into ‘synchronic’ studies of key biblical themes accessed through tracing ‘giveaway’ words for those themes.

Did I mention that it’s free?